Ofsted has conducted an emergency inspection of England’s biggest free school after a video showing a brawl between five students in the canteen was circulated on social media.
Northampton International Academy (NIA) received an unannounced visit on Monday that focused on behaviour and safeguarding.
It followed complaints from many parents and was later upgraded to a full, graded section 5 inspection led by a team that included four HMI.
The visit poses serious questions for Ofsted, which rated NIA’s safeguarding as “effective” in June, despite finding “serious failings” the year before.
It also further exposes the effects of social media videos. One TikTok account Schools Week came across gets thousands of views by posting fights in schools.
The school said the incident did “not represent” its community, while Ofsted said its previous decision reflected “findings at the time”.
Video captures bullying attack
The video, filmed on January 24, appears to show three female pupils punching, scratching and pulling the hair of two other female pupils during an attack in the canteen.
Staff can be seen struggling to keep the attackers separate from the victims, while hundreds of pupils cheer on the attackers.
Parents of the victims told The Northampton Chronicle and Echo the video had been shared across Instagram, TikTok and Facebook. Northamptonshire Police is investigating.
An NIA spokesperson said the incident had been investigated and “appropriate support, sanctions, and restorative actions have been undertaken”.
But Tom Bennett, the government behaviour tsar, said that a school in which pupils felt they could “kick off en-masse in front of teachers and supervisors…needs to think carefully and deeply about how it communicates what is and isn’t acceptable”.
Safeguarding concerns return
The school said it had “robust policies around behaviour that are followed when required”.
However, an Ofsted monitoring visit in December 2020 found vulnerable pupils at the free school were put at risk because stretched staff had “too many responsibilities” to carry out safeguarding duties.
A follow-up visit in June ruled it effective after leaders “restructured staffing to increase the capacity for safeguarding”.
But it noted NIA failed to take effective action to maintain high standards of behaviour and attitudes.
Pupils said staff did not deal with bullying “swiftly enough” and they sometimes had to raise concerns a second time “in order to be taken seriously”.
An Ofsted spokesperson said reports reflected “findings at the time of inspection” and it “may decide to inspect a school earlier than the next scheduled inspection”, depending on concerns raised.
NIA, which has a 2,300-pupil capacity, currently has 1,821 on roll.
Social media dilemma for schools
A Schools Week investigation in November revealed how teachers have been targeted in TikTok posts.
School leaders struggled to get videos removed, despite unfounded sexual misconduct allegations and homophobic slurs.
Freedom of information (FOI) responses from 18 police forces revealed 68 incidents of teacher-targeted TikTok abuse were reported in November, compared with one in October.
Schools Week found four fake accounts set up in NIA’s name, including one called “nia_fights” that had 1,026 followers. This account has now been removed.
NIA said unauthorised social media accounts created by students was a national problem. It would welcome any measures taken by social media companies to address it.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the school leaders’ union ASCL, said posting school fights online was “another unfortunate feature of the digital age”. Schools then had to deal with the aftermath as well as the incident, he said.
A TikTok account called “highschoolfights19” that showed fights in UK schools had more than 1,000 views. The “schoolfightsmessy” account, which showcased brawls in many countries, had more than 200,000 views.
TikTok claimed it did “not tolerate violence on our platform and have removed the videos in question”.
Between April and June, the company removed more than 81 million videos – 95 per cent of them before they were reported.
Meta, which controls Facebook and Instagram, said a team of 40,000 people worked on user’s safety and security.